Challenge-Based Learning teaches students real world lessons
April 13, 2011
By Darla Martin Tucker
RIVERSIDE, Calif. – (www.lasierra.edu) As the school year rolls into its final quarter, a new umbrella program conceived in the School of Business is finishing its first effort at shepherding students into the real world through entrepreneurship and competition for prize money.
The program, called Challenge-Based Learning, presents students with competitive projects that aim to solve real life business problems through unique solutions. Those with the most effective answers are awarded cash prizes or scholarships.
The inaugural year of Challenge-Based Learning entailed three main projects involving marketing, customer service issues and entrepreneurship.
During the fall and winter quarters, students were tasked with developing marketing plans intended to help a Southern California developer attract new tenants to a Riverside retail plaza.
A second project called the Dean’s Challenge asks students or student groups to write essays on ways to improve the experience of education in the business school. The deadline for essay submittal is April 15. The first place winner will receive a $1,000 scholarship, the second place recipient will receive a $500 scholarship and a third place winner will receive a $250 scholarship. The contest is open to all business students.
The third spring quarter project, titled the Joe Patton Challenge for the Best Business Plan, awards a $5,000 prize to the best business idea and business plan for a startup venture. The deadline for business idea and plan submittal is May 20. The business award, funded by the Joe Patton Trust, is named for national award-winning aerospace entrepreneur and humanitarian Joe Patton, co-founder of Gardena-based Aero Chip Inc. The company is a top minority supplier of precision-machined parts for aerospace, U.S. military and private enterprise.
Challenge-Based Learning is an exercise in creative, real-world problem solving using entrepreneurial skills that motivate students. The program uses a multi-disciplinary approach and encourages students to leverage technology. In all the Challenge projects, panels of corporate leaders and professors evaluate students’ reports. “It is collaborative and encourages teamwork,” said John Thomas, dean of La Sierra’s School of Business. He and management and marketing Professor Elias Rizkallah are spearheading the program. “It’s a hands on learning experience, students working with peers, teachers and experts in the community and the world to develop deeper subject knowledge,” Thomas said. “We want to bridge the gap between formal learning and informal learning. We’re incentivizing positive behavior. When you have fun you learn better.”
Jonathan Davidson, a business management major, submitted an essay on ways to improve students’ educational experience in the business school. His suggestions included having students learn various business subjects by starting a fictitious company during their freshman year. Students would incorporate accounting, business law, marketing and other topics into the development of the company during their academic tenure. “In this way, by the time we finished college, we would have gone through the entire process of starting a company and taking goods to market four times, giving us the confidence and experience to start businesses right out of school,” Davidson said. He also suggested hiring a full-time faculty member to help students in every stage of starting real companies, and included in his paper study techniques that have helped him succeed in school.
The Challenge-Based Learning marketing project took root when Mike Kendall, vice president of acquisitions for Turner Development Corp. in Newport Beach, approached the business school about involving students in marketing strategies for The Shops at Riverwalk, a Turner Development property situated near La Sierra University.
Six teams of students signed up with the goal of creating the best marketing ideas Turner Development might use in attracting businesses to the retail plaza. The property is a 100,000-square-foot center of stores, service establishments, a hotel and restaurants along Riverwalk Parkway. It is part of the broader, 73-acre Turner Riverwalk mixed-use development anchored by The Towers, twin, four-story Class A office buildings.
In December the students presented their plans to a judging panel that included Kendall, a property leasing agent and a tenant of Turner’s Riverside property. For the students, the experience deviated broadly from presentations made to classmates and professors.
“Presenting in front of your peers of students is not that intimidating. Having to present to those three judges pushed me and my team to make an impression,” said Vanisara Nicole Anthony, a senior business management and marketing major. “This project put into perspective for me how the management of a company thinks. Its quite different from what I learned from books and class assignments.”
The School of Business held an awards ceremony in January for four winning teams and gave out a total of $5,000 in prizes, all funded by Turner Development. The first place team walked away with $2,500, two, second place teams each received $1,000 and one team received a $500 award.
The top prize-winning team erupted into cheers and hugs when the announcement of their placement was made. The team produced an 80-page marketing report. Each member researched specific areas such analysis of retail plazas and rent pricing strategies. Some members interviewed tenants operating in the plaza for their views on needed improvements to the property and its offerings.
“There were a lot of creative brainstorming sessions,” said political economy and marketing major Alex Schmidt, a member of the first-place team. “Some ideas were crazy. …It was the first time to actually work for a real business. It’s very different because you’re working with real people,” a process that required insight into the business’s interests, he said.
Despite the pressure, the team enjoyed the work. “We definitely had fun,” said Anthony.
While some individuals might head to the nearest mall with their cash, the three teammates interviewed chose a more responsible path for their allotment of the winnings and said they would either pay expenses or save it.
“It’s going straight to school,” Schmidt said.
PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University